With several degrees under her belt and a specialized expertise in theology, liturgy, sacred art, and education, Daniella Zsupan-Jerome was a natural—if not perfect—fit for Loyola Press’ Arts and Faith series.
In Advent 2013, Daniella curated, analyzed, and narrated timeless works of art to shed light on the four weeks of preparation leading up to Jesus’ birth. Her approachable expertise and natural passion for religious expression was so popular and welcome that a version for Lent shortly followed in 2014.
Daniella’s enthusiasm and knowledge helped many in the Loyola Press community and beyond deepen their Advent and Lenten practice, as well as develop an appreciation for iconic works of religious art.
Here are six facts about the woman behind the Arts and Faith video guides.
Born in Hungary, Daniella’s first experiences of faith were traditional Catholic and Eastern European stories and rituals passed down from her grandmother. As a child, her family traveled to Italy and other areas deeply rooted in Catholic art and history. Daniella recalls being awestruck by the cathedrals of Italy, especially Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. When she was in the fifth grade, Daniella and her family moved to America, where she began to notice the cultural differences in expressions of personal faith. Her own spirituality grew from a combination of both experiences.
When she first connected arts and faith: “I have always been interested in how people communicate their faith. The collective endeavor of people communicating their faith, of somebody creating art, making music . . . We think of the Church as a building, but it’s the manifestation of being One Body, One People. I just think that’s awesome!”
On why arts matter to our faith: “When we listen to stories, they carry us to a deeper meaning. Art has a way to transcend boundaries and barriers and transform the horizon. [It’s a] much gentler and hospitable way to dig deeper.”
Her “Aha!” moment: “I was on retreat in grad school and reading Christian Smith’s book Soul Searching, which is about the spiritual life of American teenagers and how [such a]little percentage of Catholics knew their faith, like felt close to it. This was the tipping point. Here I am, around the amazing richness of Catholic tradition, and yet the culture [and people] around me [felt they] have little access. I felt moved at that point to [figure out] how to get better access. I thought, “People don’t even know this awesome beauty! This led me to finish my studies with a focus on theology and education.”
On her own expressions of creativity: “I cook! My Hungarian family is trained in hospitality; how to prepare a meal and make it inviting is really important. Painting and drawing—though I wish I found more time to practice—and gardening. Just playing with the garden, [helping] the plants flourish. It’s very spiritual and very meditative, restorative.”
What she’s working on now: Daniella is an assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans. Currently, her professional interests include digital media and faith formation because “the Church’s mission is a call to communicate, to feel passionate about it. The missionary spirit can go awry in the digital sphere, and it’s a real prophetic challenge to Christians to bring the Good News. Fifteen to 20 years ago, digital was mostly textual, just book on screens. Now it is so interactive and visual. We can tell the stories through images.” Daniella explores this topic in more depth in her upcoming book, Connected to Our Communication: The Church and Social Communication (Liturgical Press).
Watch Daniella’s reflection on Raphael’s painting Transfiguration for the second week of Lent.